Cars line the sides of a street in central Addis Ababa (photo courtesy of Tom Re).
Introduction to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
With a growing population of 2 million people, Addis Ababa is the capital and largest city of Ethiopia. Addis Ababa is located at the geographic center of the nation (see map of Ethiopia)in the mountainous Shawa Province and is the political and cultural center of Ethiopia.
The city is sharply divided by class and ethnicity, with informal settlements concentrated near the center and wealthier districts to the southeast and southwest.
Addis Ababa, which means "New Flower" in Amharic, is an intriguingly indigenous African city. Unlike many other African capitals, it's founding, growth and development, are not rooted in colonization. Founded in 1896 by Emperor Menelik II, Addis Ababa is the last in a succession of capitals of the great Abyssinian empire dating back to the pre-Christian Axum (Brunn & Williams 273).
For a brief period between 1936 and 1939, the conquering Italians under Mussolini attempted to Europeanize this lively and vibrant city. Because their rule was so short-lived, the Italian influence on the geography and society of Addis Ababa was minimal and never amounted to a full scale colonization.
Growth occurred in three waves following world war II, with the lagest population boom during the late 60's, as rural to urban migration reached its peak. War and famines in the last 10 years have increased in-migration to the capital.
Rural migrants come villages all across the nation and dozens of ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Amhara, Oromo and Gurage are the dominant ethnicities in this diverse city.
Addis Ababa was saved in the 1920's by an ambitious campaign to plant Eucalyptus trees in and around the city as a fuel wood and construction material. Today, a greenbelt of forests and semi-subsistence cultivated land surrounds the city.
Addis Ababa is no paradise for most of its residents and workers. The majority of the population lives in substandard housing and many citizens lack running water or electricity.
Today, Addis Ababa is in a stage of transition as Ethiopia adjusts to a new free market economy and a democratic government. The end of a 30-year civil war which resulted in the independence of the former northern province of Eritrea in 1993 has further stabilized the capital's economy.
The situation only stands to get worse as more people flock to Addis Ababa, which is the main market center of the nation. The Addis Merkato, located in the Addis Ketema district of western Addis Ababa, is the primary retail, wholesale and distribution point for the city and the central highlands.
Because of its indigenous character, and the great legacy of the Abyssinian Empire, Ethiopia and its capital city have become a source of pride for the Pan-African movement. Many African nations followed the lead of Ethiopia (The first independent African nation) upon gaining independence and adopted the Pan-African Colors of the Ethiopian flag, red, green and yellow in their own. This historical significance and the enchanting, mountainous setting of Addis Ababa has drawn more than tourists in the later part of this century as the secretariats of both the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa chose to locate their headquarters here (Brunn & Williams 277).
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is recognized by African diplomats, tourists, geographers and residents alike as one of the world¹s most problematic, yet fascinating and beautiful cities.